South African boxing is experiencing its fair share of problems on top of the COVID19 crisis. There is the weakness of the South African currency, which at the time of writing stands at R18 to the dollar, making it very expensive to import foreign opponents and forcing many south African fighters to travel overseas for major fights, facing hostile crowds and biased judges. These days boxing also draws the short end of the stick when competing against major mainstream sports such as rugby and cricket for sponsors and airtime.
Nonetheless, Golden Gloves Promotions remain upbeat when it comes to their current crop of fighters with big plans in the pipeline once things return to normal.
Leading the charge is their flagship fighter, IBO world cruiserweight champion, Kevin “Two Guns” Lerena, who is ranked number five in the world by both Ring Magazine and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
For a fighter with no amateur record to speak of, the athletic Lerena, trained by Peter Smith, has gone from strength to strength, amassing a record of 25-1 with 12 knockouts. A southpaw with quick feet and blazing combinations, he reversed his lone defeat, a points loss against the always tough Johnny Muller, by stopping Muller in the tenth round in 2016, in defense of his national title while also picking up the WBA Pan African title.
Then came the Super Four cruiserweight tournament and Lerena, once again, came out on top, decisioning Roberto Bolonti and undefeated Danish fringe contender, Micki Nielsen. Two fights later he found himself fighting the dangerous Youri Kalenga, a former WBA interim world champion, for the vacant IBO world title. In a tough, nip-and-tuck affair, Lerena prevailed by split decision to take the belt.
He has since made six successful defenses, his most notable victories being a decision over Dmytro Kucher and most recently, a sixth-round stoppage of former WBA world champion, Firat Arslan, in Germany.
The plan was to face WBA interim champion, Ryad Merhy, in a unification bout, although that bout looks to be at least temporarily delayed by sanctioning body politics. Now the plan is to fight 16-0 with 13 knockouts Kai Robin Havnaa from Norway as soon as sporting events get the go ahead. Kai Robin is the son of Magne Havnaa, a former WBO cruiserweight world champion.
The cruiserweights are making some noise on the African continent with newly minted WBC world champion, Ilunga Makabu, as well as WBC silver champion, Thabiso Mchunu, also in the mix. Given the difficulty in landing a major opponent for Lerena, the possibility of eventual fights between these three may not be as far-fetched as once thought.
Another Peter Smith trained fighter who is making waves as a pro without any amateur experience is South African and IBO All African super middleweight champion, Rowan “Braveheart” Campbell.
After winning the national title with a 12-round decision over Renson Hobyani in 2018, Campbell made 2019 his breakout year, racking up four straight wins. First came two decisions over Alex Kabangu and Yanga Phethani, followed by a seventh-round stoppage of normally durable Patrick Mukala. His signature win came in November, when he separated South African lightheavyweight champion, undefeated Nic Radley, from his senses in four rounds.
Campbell has developed into an effective pressure fighter with a solid jab and big right hand, as shown by the eight knockouts in his 12-0 record.
He was scheduled to face fellow undefeated fighter, Russian Evgeny Shvedenko, in Germany for the vacant IBO world title before the Corona virus threw a spanner in the works.
Whatever happens in the future, Rowan Campbell makes for must watch pugilistic action!
Another fighter going places is WBA Pan African and IBF Continental Africa junior welterweight champion, the 9-0 with four knockouts Jabulani Makhense. Hailing from Limpopo, he bears a striking resemblance in both fighting style and physical stature to another South African great from the same region, the former two-time IBF junior lightweight world champion, Cassius Baloyi. A bronze medalist in the Commonwealth Games as an amateur, he certainly has the pedigree.
He scored three 12 round decision wins over quality opposition in 2019. First, he outpointed former South African champion, Xolani “Tiger” Mcotheli. In his next fight he outmaneuvered the always tough Michael Mokoena but in his third outing he had to answer a gut check, so essential in a young fighter’s development. Fellow undefeated fighter, Marios Matamba, gave him some trouble over the first half of the fight with his relentless pressure fighting style but eventually Makhense showed his class, finding the distance and angles to emerge a winner by majority decision.
According to trainer, former WBU and IBO cruiserweight champion, Sebastiaan Rothman, they are working at increasing his punch output to send his opponents packing before the final bell.
Makhense was scheduled to face Harry Simon jr in the postponed “All or Nothing” bill and there are also plans for an American debut to introduce him to a wider audience.
Is he the next Cassius Baloyi? Only time will tell.
The smaller weights have always been the most prolific in producing South African world champions and junior bantamweight, Ricardo “Magic Man” Malajika, has his sights set on following in the footsteps of such luminaries of the division such as Simphiwe Nongqayi and Zolani Tete.
Malajika, who had an outstanding amateur career, has wasted no time in running his record to 6-0 with five knockouts in two years as a professional. With speed and power mixed into his switch-hitting style, he is a nightmare for any opponent.
In his last fight against 8-0 Mnqobi Mkhize, he didn’t have it all his own way though. The awkward, aggressive Mkhize went at him with everything he had and before Malajika ended matters in the eighth round, both fighters visited the canvass, not once but twice. “It was a blessing in disguise because the fight showed us what we still need to work on,” said trainer, Anton Gilmore, when asked to assess his fighter’s performance.
Malajika was scheduled to take a big step up against former world title challenger, Jonas Sultan, on the “All or Nothing” card and hopefully that fight can still happen when a new date is set.
Now you see him, now you don’t.. Keep your eyes on the “Magic Man!”
Besides the above mentioned four, there are also other fighters in the Golden Gloves stable on the verge of a breakout victory.
Two such fighters are junior middleweights, Boyd Allen and Brandon Thysse, who are scheduled to face each other in a rematch in the final of the Four@War tournament as soon as a new date can be found.
Former MMA star, Allen, has done extremely well to be where he is at in his boxing career after only six fights and Thysse has shown marked improvement in his last outing when he stopped the favored Roarke Knapp in seven rounds.